1 Oct 2021

Matthew Hunt shooting: Eli Epiha's getaway driver Natalie Bracken jailed for 12 months

2:06 pm on 1 October 2021

A getaway driver who helped the killer of police officer Matthew Hunt to flee has been jailed for 12 months.

Justice Venning, top left, at the sentencing of Natalie Bracken, right, via audio visual link at the High Court in Auckland on Friday 1 October 2021.

Justice Venning, top left, at the sentencing of Natalie Bracken, right, via audio visual link at the High Court in Auckland on Friday 1 October 2021. Photo: Supplied

Natalie Bracken was sentenced via audiovisual-link in the High Court in Auckland today, after a jury found her guilty of being an accessory after the fact in July.

She drove Eli Epiha away from the West Auckland street where he'd just crashed and injured a bystander, then shot and killed officer Hunt and wounded officer David Goldfinch last June.

During the trial Bracken maintained she did not know Epiha, and that he threatened her.

Her lawyer Adam Couchman argued she thought she was doing the right thing - and said her actions stopped Epiha hurting anyone else.

Today, Crown Prosecutor Brian Dickey disputed that, saying Bracken simply "moved the danger" then left Epiha armed and able to flee, at another location.

"That claim of hers is not sustainable ... against what she actually did. Which was to deliver Mr Epiha to safety and not to take any steps to ensure the safety of police or the public after that by reporting where he was. Because at that time she had left him still armed with two serious firearms and in a position to escape," he said.

"All that Ms Bracken achieved was to move the danger from Reynella Drive in Massey to an unknown place where Mr Epiha would seek to flee. He was always going to have to encounter the police at some point in time."

The mother of Matthew Hunt read a victim impact statement, telling Bracken her selfishness was "unbelievable" and Hunt would have come to help her if she ever needed it.

"Drifting aimlessly through your life you heard the gunshots and the crash on that terrible day and you wanted to be a part of it. Seeing my son dead, or dying on the ground, you tried to get the attention of his murderer so you could help him evade police."

"You didn't call 111 or ask anyone else to assist ... even afterwards you went on the run and you had to be found by the police. You had the opportunity to take responsibility for your actions that day. Instead, you made us all sit through a two-week trial."

Epiha's sentencing was also scheduled for today but it won't happen while Auckland is still at level 3.

Justice Venning said Bracken was aware of the seriousness of what she did and her actions could have led to further violence.

"You directly observed Mr Epiha's actions before you assisted him," he said.

"You had seen him shoot two police officers. You had the opportunity - like your associates.. of running away or staying inside the house instead of returning with the car keys."

However, he noted she had two young twins, and a number of letters of support from her whānau and friends.

"You have potential ... you can turn your life around," he said.

The getaway

During the trial, the jury watched a phone recording of the getaway and footage from a police interview with Natalie Bracken.

In the video, Epiha could be seen hovering near the passenger door to a grey Mazda Atenza, while Matthew Hunt lay on the road.

Natalie Bracken walked to the driver's door dressed in jeans, a bra and bare feet.

She tried the door handle, disappeared and then reappeared with the keys.

In the interview she told a police officer "he threatened me".

"He was like get me the f*** out of here. Take me in this car now ... I was so scared. I thought he was going to shoot."

Bracken told the officer the Mazda was her ex-boyfriend's car and she thought taking Epiha away from the scene was "the right thing" to do.

She said they drove for about 10 or 15 minutes while Epiha showed her directions on his phone. She dropped him off at his friend's house.

Bracken remembered the gunman saying "drive, drive, I just killed a cop", then calling his wife and friends.

"[He was] telling all these people that he loved them and he f***ed up. That he's going away for 14, 20 years. For a long time."

Bracken was arrested the day after the shooting at a house in Te Atatu, with her hair freshly dyed.